The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance is a collection of essays divided into two sections: Part 1: New Testament Foundations, and Part 2: Practical Relevance. Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman, both experts in their respective fields of New Testament and Church History, serve as the editors to this clear and insightful work. Contributors include notable figures such as Richard Bauckham, Benjamin L. Gladd, Michael Reeves, and Scott R. Swain.
As the title suggests, the aim of the book is to provide New Testament (NT) exegetical foundations for the doctrine of the Trinity and to suggest some practical applications of the doctrine. Anyone familiar with a typical NT seminary curriculum will not be surprised by the arrangement of Part 1. The first eight chapters deal with the Trinity and Matthew (ch. 1), Mark (ch. 2), Luke-Acts (ch. 3), John (ch. 4), Paul (ch. 5), Hebrews (ch. 6), General Epistles (ch. 7), and the Book of Revelation (ch. 8). The last chapter in Part 1 explores the OT roots of the doctrine (ch. 9). Part 2 addresses the topics of the Trinity and Mystery (ch. 10), Prayer (ch. 11), Revelation (ch. 12), Worship (ch. 13), and Preaching (ch. 14). As the editors note in the Introduction, the book purposefully “eschews overly technical discussion and focuses attention on the importance of the doctrine for every Christian” (p. 19). The book succeeds in achieving its aim, whilst maintaining the accessibility that it promises. Especially noteworthy is the overall consistency in depth and clarity, despite the diversity of topics and theological commitments of the various contributors. For brevity, I make several comments, all of which express my general endorsement of the book.
One common objection to the Trinity is that the term itself never occurs in the Bible. Along these lines, many sincere believers say that they do not want to superimpose any theology on the Bible. As many have demonstrated, this approach is naïve because it fails to take seriously that no one interprets the Bible in a vacuum. One way or another, a person will superimpose his or her theology into the Bible. Therefore, it is best to adopt a hermeneutic with theological truths (like the Trinity) that originate from the Bible itself. Such an approach is less of a superimposition on and more of a reflection of the NT.
Part 1 does an excellent job of showing how the Trinity flows from a careful reading of the NT. Each contributor succeeds in demonstrating how the Trinity is at least assumed by the authors of the NT. Moreover, in their effort to show the Biblical underpinnings of the Trinity, the contributors implicitly prove how trinitarian readings result in rich(er) interpretations of the NT. For instance, Alan J. Thompson’s treatment of Luke-Acts invites NT students to interpret Luke-Acts not only as a presentation and continuation of the person and work of Christ, but also of the triune-God working in history, especially through the church, to receive all glory and praise. Key verses like Acts 2:33 (“Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing”) support such a trinitarian reading. From Part 1 alone, one can hardly ignore the editors’ assertion that the Trinity is “a robustly biblical doctrine” (p. 19) with rich hermeneutical implications.
Regarding Part 2, some readers might feel that this section is not as practical as they would hope. Generally, when my seminary students use the term “practical,” they are referring to a concrete “how to” approach to setting up an annual budget, leading a church meeting, or conducting a marriage counseling session. In this sense, perhaps the subtitle for this book might have been something more along the lines of “Foundations for Doctrine and Practice.” Nevertheless, Part 2 is helpful for pastors who are seeking to develop a more trinitarian framework for their ministries. For instance, Carl Trueman’s chapter on Prayer (which I found very “practical”) reads: “A correct doctrine of God as Trinity does not guarantee a healthy prayer life, but a defective doctrine of the Trinity guarantees a prayer life that will be much less than it should be” (p. 228). This statement represents the sort of charitable but insightful and nuanced approach we should adopt while trying to build a more robustly trinitarian ministry. Readers might also want to take special note of Scott R. Swain’s chapter entitled “The Mystery of the Trinity.” Swain opens his essay with the assertion, “The doctrine of the Trinity is the most sublime truth of the Christian faith and its supreme treasure” (p. 213). Such sublimity, he argues, elicits rejoicing and praise from believers. One might wonder why this chapter is included in the “Practical Relevance” section of the book, especially as the opening chapter. I surmise that the editors rightly discerned that there are fewer things more important for human beings than an abiding sense of wonder, which the Trinity uniquely accomplishes. What other doctrine best illustrates the Creator-creature distinction?
I was surprised that the work did not include a chapter on tri-perspectivalism, especially as it relates to epistemology and theology. I recognize that it is unfair to say that this ought to be included in the practical section: each person has his or her unique interest and preference. Moreover, there are many who are unfamiliar with or wary of tri-perspectivalism, especially as it is expressed in the works of John Frame and Vern Poythress. Still, given the posited trinitarian foundations underlying tri-perspectivalism and its rich applications to hermeneutics, theological method, and epistemology, some discussion of the topic seems warranted. This last suggestion, however, should not detract from my endorsement of the book. Any pastor, preacher, or layman who wishes to be more intentional in understanding the biblical roots behind the Trinity or is interested in appreciating the relevance of the Trinity to “real” life and ministry ought to include this book in their reference library.